Animal Welfare League Has A New Place To Call Home

Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer (second from right), Animal Welfare League Executive Director Katey Wilks Zemen (fourth from left), former AWL Executive Director Darla McCammon (fourth from right) and AWL staff and volunteers cut the ribbon for the new animal shelter facility at 1048 S. 325E, Pierceton, Saturday. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

PIERCETON – Eleven years in the making, the Animal Welfare League of Kosciusko County has a new home.

Saturday, the animal shelter hosted a grand opening and ribbon-cutting at its new facility at 1048 S. 325E, Pierceton.

At the festivities, Executive Director Katey Wilks Zemen said, “This has been 11 years in the making. (Former Executive Director) Darla (McCammon) had a vision 11 years ago, and she worked extremely hard to get that going. She raised a majority of this money to get this facility going.”

The estimated cost of the new facility is more than $2 million, with $700,000 left to raise.

“I was able to come in a year and a half ago, and (McCammon) gave me a great foundation to be able to build on her vision. And through all that work we were able to get this brand-new facility, and it’s something we needed for so long,” Wilks Zemen said.

“And the reason why we’ve been so successful in the old facility is because of the staff we had. So, now we are going to be working with our building, and I can dream of all the things that we are going to accomplish now because of this new facility,” she continued.

The new building was designed for the future. It has a cat room for healthy cats to play outside of their cages. There’s cuddle rooms for potential people to get to PIknow an animal before choosing to adopt a cat or dog. The flooring is especially designed for animal shelters, with a sewer system to make cleaning of the cages easier. It can house over 100 dogs and cats at a time, but has plenty of space left for offices, a meeting room and more.

“We can house upwards of 3,600 animals a year, if necessary,” Wilks Zemen said.

Before the ribbon cutting, Mayor Joe Thallemer addressed the shelter staff and volunteers.

He told them, “I want to address you all because you are the group, as we’ve just heard, that is the brains behind the whole thing and the operation folks that make this happen, and most importantly for the animals to give them that chance.”

He said it was “heart-warming” for him to be there, and that he’s known McCammon for a long time.

“She’s been working me for 11 years … but it paid off because her vision is now a reality, and sometimes people have to really forge ahead when there’s a vision that they want others to see and feel and eventually act on,” Thallemer said.

He said McCammon probably had a little bit of arm-twisting to do when she first thought up her vision.

“Darla,” Thallemer said, “I’m most appreciative to be here for you and now all of your successors have taken your vision and taken it to reality. Here we are, right now.”

He then read the proclamation from his office naming Saturday as “Animal Welfare League Day.”

After the ribbon-cutting, Thallemer told the staff and volunteers, “What you guys do is so important to the city … We rely on you all … So thank you so much. Keep up the good work, because we can’t do it without you.”

A dog named Callie was the first animal adopted at the new shelter. Beth Harrison, of Warsaw, president of the AWL Board of Directors, adopted Callie.

“I wasn’t looking for another dog, but I was at the previous building for a meeting and got there early, so I walked through the dog kennels, and she was in the last kennel. She wasn’t barking, she was just sitting there looking at me. I put my hand in and she laid her head in my hand, and her paw grabbed a hold of my arms. I went, ‘OK, I’m going to foster you and see if you’re a good addition to my family.’ And she was,” Harrison said.

As people checked out the new facilities Saturday, McCammon talked about what the building means to her.

“It is unbelievable. I can’t believe this is finally happening. It took 11 years to get to this point. Although I retired last year, I’ve still been involved, very intimately, especially with the cat room,” she said.

“It’s just been wonderful, and people have just come out to help, which has been fantastic. I really think the city needs to appreciate this, too, and I hope more people come from Warsaw and the surrounding areas, too, and take advantage of it, it’s a fun place. It’s a dream come true,” McCammon continued.